By Andrew Hood
UCI president Pat McQuaid rejected calls that Ivan Basso should be shown clemency or portrayed as a hero for his recent admissions that he was a key figure in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
McQuaid lashed into the disgraced Italian champion despite calls from some within the Italian cycling establishment that Basso should be dealt with a softer hand when it comes dishing out disciplinary bans for his recent confessions that he worked with controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
“He has admitted his guilt, when he lied to everyone for 10 months,” McQuaid said. “He lied to the cycling family, to the media, to the sponsors, he lied to his new teammates. He lied to everyone. He does not deserve our sympathy.”
McQuaid said the UCI would challenge anything less than a two-year ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I cannot understand and I strongly disagree with the plea for a reduction of the sanction,” McQuaid said. “Those who ask for that have no respect for the fight against doping, for cycling, for the large majority of clean riders and for the riders who have admitted to doping.”
Basso, 29, was among nine riders kicked out ahead of the 2006 Tour for links to Puerto, but was later was cleared by the Italian cycling federation for a lack of sufficient evidence. Basso then signed a lucrative two-year deal with Discovery Channel and was within days of defending his Giro crown when Italian officials reopened the Basso file.
The 2006 Giro champ quickly folded under pressure from prosecutors and admitted he was the infamous “Birillo” mentioned in the Puerto dossier after nearly a year of denying it. Basso then infuriated many when he stopped short of a full confession and insisted that he only intended to dope during the 2006 Tour.
“The world of cycling doesn’t deserve this,” McQuaid continued. “Ivan Basso was an idol for young children and I haven’t spoken about Floyd Landis, but he’s has done as much damage if not more than Ivan Basso to this sport.”
McQuaid then accused members of the Italian media of being too soft on Basso.
“Everyone should have taken a neutral line (with Basso). In Italy, that didn’t happen – he was supported by many senior figures in Italian sport, in Italian cycling, by members of Italian media,” McQuaid said. “That is wrong, and it’s been proven to be wrong, and they were wrong to do it.”
Those statements raised the ire among the mostly Italian press corps at the Saturday press conference. Tempers flared as McQuaid insisted that journalists should write stories about sport and let the UCI worry about Puerto and other doping scandals plaguing the sport.
The Spanish doping investigation has haunted cycling since revelations last May that Fuentes allegedly was the ringleader of a doping network that included nearly 60 cyclists from scores of teams.
In light of the Basso confession and the startling revelation that DNA samples taken from 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich matched nine bags of blood found in the Fuentes cache, several teams kept Puerto-implicated riders out of the Giro.
Tinkoff Credit Systems suspended American Tyler Hamilton and German rider Jorg Jaksche for their alleged links to the Puerto affair.
Last month, the UCI and Spanish prosecutors appealed a decision by a Spanish judge to formally close legal proceedings into the investigation.
McQuaid also said UCI lawyers are digging through an additional 6000 pages of documents accumulated by Spanish authorities. An initial review by a UCI attorney indicated there are not additional names expected to be implicated in the damaging affair.
McQuaid was at a loss at how long Puerto affair might drag on.
“We are frustrated by the speed of the (Spanish) judiciary,” McQuaid said. “We have no idea when a decision might be taken.”
With the UCI’s hands tied by the Spanish authorities, it’s very likely Puerto could continue to hang over cycling going into the Tour de France.